Archive for October, 2009

Suspiria: Sumptuous Scarlet Screams

October 28, 2009

It’s that time of year again! People dress up in silly/sexy costumes and put out ghost cut-outs and jack-o-lanterns and basically take all the balls out of Halloween. Well not here! You may remember last year I covered Jacob’s Ladder, a disturbing psychological horror film that served as a major visual inspiration for modern horror multimedia franchise Silent Hill (which has seen better days). This year it’s something closely-tied, yet completely different. While Jacob’s Ladder may be the father of Silent Hill, according to interviews of the Japanese staff of the original Silent Hill, Dario Argento’s Suspiria is very much the mother.

WITCHESSSSSS

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Resident Evil 2 – 11 Years Later, Still a Bloody Good Time

October 26, 2009

Survival horror is pretty much dead. Ironic, I guess that it didn’t … survive. It was very much a product of its time, when pre-rendered graphics and static camera angles were the height of sophistication. And c’mon, how long could monsters jumping out of windows stay scary? Things are different now. Silent Hill has been franchised to death, though a dubious remake of the original creeps on its way. The Resident Evil series mutated into an action game in a weird cyclical cannibalistic situation — Resident Evil 4 spawned Gears of War which spawned Resident Evil 5 and, ah, the rest of this generation.

Although, really, Resident Evil’s been an action series since Resident Evil 2. Beyond a few jump scares it’s a straight-up shooter with a few puzzles sprinkled on top. The game’s packed with ammo and weaponry despite the rudimentary aiming system. You just hold R1 to aim, swivel in one spot to select a target and mash away on the X button. But hey,  11 years after release, Resident Evil 2 remains a tense, effective game. I still jump, my heart still races and I still remember where every monster and item is, and that doesn’t take away from the experience to this day. It’s snappy, simple and constantly rewarding.

So I think I’ll just spout out what I love about it.

resevil2

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Prinny: Can I Really be the Hero? – Ain’t No Picnic

October 15, 2009

You gotta be nuts to play through Prinny: Can I Really be the Hero?. Well, nuts or an exceptionally gifted mutant, someone like that kid from X-Men 2 who can change channels by blinking. Prinny is only for masochistic sadists. It is one of the most difficult, infuriating games I’ve had the sometimes-pleasure to suffer through. Before Prinny, I never said aloud, while playing, “I don’t like this game.” Yet I continued to play, out of some misguided sense of pride, like if I quit I would dishonor my family or the game would furrow its Prinny brows and sneer at me.

WACKY, HUH?

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(grumplet) Muramasa: The Demon Blade – Not Bad, Not Great

October 8, 2009

Muramasa: The Demon Blade continues Vanillaware’s mission to deliver gorgeous 2D gaming. After their PlayStation 2 action-RPG Odin Sphere, and now this, it’s clear Vanillaware gives all their attention to the beautiful, painterly visuals of their games. When it comes to the actual video game part of their games, well, things get iffy.

Muramasa gives you two characters to play as: Kisuke, a warrior without his memory, and Momohime, a princess possessed by the soul of a vengeful swordsman. Each character plays similarly, the only difference lies in their stories, neither of which comes across very well. The plot itself is a ghost, a non-entity. Once in a while you get a break from fighting and go around talking to NPCs who say the same thing over and over.

That’s about it as far as story goes. The presentation is barebones at best, no cutscenes or anything. Most of the time it isn’t even clear what they’re talking about anyway — blame it on the original Japanese script or a lack of interest in the whereabouts of Momohime’s soul. I usually say “Who cares about story in a video game?” but if you’re going to try, at least try harder than Muramasa.

Looks good, plays okay

The game itself fares better, playing a lot like a traditional side scrolling beat-’em-up fitted with numerous RPG-like elements, since that’s the thing to do to stale genres. It’s easy to rack up tons of combos, zip left to right in the air, crash down on enemies, switch blades to attack all enemies at once, recover using items all the while gaining experience points and tons of new swords, items and equipment. The battles are fun and keeps you constantly busy, though they are randomly generated which can grow wearisome. When stuck at a boss all I had to do was forge stronger swords and grind to get by. Typical skills like pattern memorization and timing didn’t really matter — it was all about the grind.

It’s also all about managing your inventory. You can forge tons of swords but only equip 3 at a time. Recovery items are unique in that you can only eat them when Kisuke or Momohime feel hungry, which can be tricky in the heat of battle. A degree of strategy between battles comes in handy. Actually, the most impressive part of the game’s presentation for me was the eating. There are various eateries throughout the game where your character can sit down and enjoy a fine, prepared meal. A plate of shrimp tempura is so lovingly rendered it got me watering, and bit by bit it disappears with each bite. The game has charm for sure, but charm can fuel a game for so long.

Muramasa is fun in short bursts. Playing for long stretches got me antsy for something meatier, more involved. I can only slash the same few enemies through the same few vistas for so many times. The vistas are gorgeous for sure, and I’d be foolish not to  appreciate Vanillaware for their dedication to 2D, I just hope their next game is something I can really sink my teeth into and not something so … vanilla.